Scott Harris, Freelance Writer
|Note: Police Chief magazine, from time-to-time, offers feature-length articles on products and services that are useful to law enforcement administrators. This article features protective gear.|
Sometimes, the best offense is a good defense.
New advances in apparel and protective gear help make officers safer. They are also becoming easier to use, more convenient, and less burdensome for law enforcement. Taken together, these innovations free police officers to focus on the task at hand, rather than the gear on their backs, and do their jobs more safely and efficiently.
Dressed for Success
Generally speaking, protective gear encompasses a wide range of items, but it all begins with apparel. Garments that protect the person wearing them while providing both convenience and comfort are paramount too—if sometimes taken for granted—in day-to-day police and public safety activity.
Body armor is perhaps the clearest and most prominent example. The standard bullet-resistant Kevlar vest used inside the law enforcement sector can weigh approximately seven pounds and can protect against the kinds of gunshot assaults officers encounter in a given region. While it is proven effective in mitigating firearm damage, traditional body armor does have its weaknesses. However, soon, those weaknesses may be shored up, and the very fabric of body armor may (quite literally) be set to change.
This spring, leaders of Canadian company ProWearGear expect to launch a new vest designed to protect officers when Kevlar cannot: namely, during stabbings and similar attacks.
“Ballistic vests are not rated for punctures or slashing,” said Linda Lazarowich, ProWearGear’s president and CEO. “You can’t tell a bad guy not to come at you with a knife, and some bad guys know the soft areas of a regular ballistic vest.”1
Lazarowich, who designed the new fabric, dubbed it “Armordillo,” and she says it can help officers do their job more safely and more comfortably. The hybrid fabric got its start in the four-legged sector of law enforcement, when K-9 officers were searching for a lighter-weight body armor alternative for their dogs. After meeting with success in that area, Lazarowich adapted the technology for human use.
The new composite fabric is lightweight and flexible, and thus, can adjust easily to any body type. Armordillo garments are not bulletproof, but can ward off stabbing injuries while fitting comfortably under regular clothing or over a Kevlar vest.
ProWearGear is also making available new Armordillo gauntlets that provide similar safety and flexibility.
“It is perfect for search and rescue operations,” Lazarowich said. “If you have a needle infected with HIV, the gauntlets will cover and protect your hands from that, but you can still draw your pistol if you need to without a problem.”
Despite these advances, traditional body armor is still a necessary safety precaution, and because of the marked increase in public gun violence in recent years, the federal government has beefed up requirements for agencies seeking federal dollars to help defray the cost of body armor. Specifically, jurisdictions applying for matching funds through the Justice Assistance Grant Program or the Bulletproof Vest Partnership, administered by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and Office of Justice Programs, respectively, must now require officers to wear body armor.
That is not only potentially cumbersome and uncomfortable, but can present a disadvantage if criminals know an officer is wearing armor. Enter ArmorSkin, a product created by Massachusetts firm Blauer Manufacturing that conceals body armor from view and improves officer comfort.
In essence, ArmorSkin is a layer of fabric that fits over a traditional ballistic vest and makes it appear as if the officer is wearing a normal shirt. According to Blauer officials, the shirt fabric keeps officers comfortable while allowing them to hide the armor from criminals.
One Size Fits All
Sometimes, a temporary addition to the officer’s wardrobe can be just as critical as the items worn every day. That is the case with iEvac Smoke Mask/Fire Escape Hood, a protective hood manufactured by Florida company Elmridge Protection.
Ira Gurvitch, president of Elmridge Protection, said several features of the iEvac hood can help law enforcement professionals do their jobs better. The first among those is protection against a wider-than-normal range of potentially harmful agents.
“A typical hood has deactivated charcoal and a particle filter,” said Gurvitch. “The first takes care of harmful gasses and the second takes care of particles. But the iEvac is the only one certified to protect against carbon monoxide.”2
According to Elmridge, the iEvac hood also protects against other fire-related gases like hydrogen cyanide, smoke, and hydrogen sulfide, and contains a HEPA filter that removes more than 99.97 percent of particles, which would include agents like anthrax and radioactive particles.
What’s more, the hoods, which are designed for one-time use only, can be put on in less than 30 seconds, and each one is packed in a vacuum-sealed bag that allows for a long shelf life.
“If there’s a truck spill, and the truck was filled with chlorine or ammonia, you can have this in your trunk or your glove compartment and pull it out,” Gurvitch said. “They can get it out and put it on and direct traffic away from the spill. This is a one-size-fits-all product.”
While the iEvac is not designed to assist officers in an oxygen-deficient environment or allow them to battle fires for an extended period of time, it is sufficient for short-term exposure, for instance, when an officer needs to escape from a scene.
The iEvac can also be a good alternative in the corrections environment, where the typical hood is the self-contained breathing apparatus, which can carry its own set of challenges.
At $149.95, the iEvac also can be far less expensive than other options. “The SCBA is an excellent piece of equipment for fighting a fire,” Gurvitch said. “But if all you want to do is get out and escape, the iEvac works. SCBAs can cost thousands of dollars, and you have to maintain it. With our hood, there is a huge potential cost savings.”
In the Field
As the price of a gallon of gas goes up and flexibility in law enforcement becomes more important, bike patrols are now being viewed as an effective weapon in many police agency arsenals.
“There is more interest in bike patrols in the last couple of years,” said Michael Espejo, the owner of website PoliceBikeStore.com. “It can keep you from spending money on fuel and you can do things on a bike that you can’t do in a patrol vehicle.”3
For bicycle officers, protection has to be coupled with comfort and freedom of movement. This means that the proverbial bang for the buck has to be high for every garment a bike patrol officer wears.
“Bike cops don’t wear a lot of protective gear because it gets cumbersome. So usually, it is just shorts and a shirt,” Espejo said. “A lot of it has to do with comfort, because a cop is often on a bike for eight hours.”
Cycling clothing manufacturer Endura developed a brand of shorts called the Hummvee, which is made from Teflon-treated nylon and a detachable inner layer that includes antibacterial padding. It also contains zippered pockets and other features designed to protect officers and their possessions from the elements.
Eyewear is also a critical multitasker for those on bike patrol or anyone else in the field. California-based Body Specs offers a full line of sunglasses and goggles, in part for law enforcement. Anna Bell Dougherty, spokeswoman for Body Specs, said their eyewear is lab-tested for ballistics resistance, as well as for overall toughness and utility in various weather conditions including high sunlight and fog.4
Advancements in keeping officers safe goes beyond just the clothing and gear items themselves. It is becoming easier to procure the items a department needs.
PoliceBikeStore.com offers a number of products beyond clothing. They also offer bikes and bike accessories and manufacture their own lights.
“We try to provide everything for a bike patrol and be a one-stop shop,” Espejo said. “When you’re first starting a bike unit, you’re not always sure what you need or what’s available. So we try to provide everything on one site.”
Many people may associate the Desert Eagle brand with firearms. But according to Steven Wesenberg, founder and chairman of the Nevada-based company, the Desert Eagle Tech website distributes 350,000 different name-brand products through www.deserteagletech.com.5 The items run the
gamut from apparel and accessories to footwear and gloves.
There are a number of other websites that provide central hubs for purchasing apparel and a range of other law enforcement items, as well as sources like Police Chief’s annual Buyers’ Guide. Almost like an Amazon for law enforcement, these websites and resources increase convenience and make purchasing more efficient, freeing up time for agencies to focus on other priorities.♦
1Linda Lazarowich (president and CEO, ProWearGear), phone interview, March 3, 2014.
2Ira Gurvitch (president, Elmridge Protection), phone interview, March 3, 2014.
3Michael Espejo (owner, www.policebikestore.com), phone interview, March 4, 2014.
4Anna Bell Dougherty (BodySpecs), email interview, March 3, 2014.
5Steve Wesenberg (founder and chairman, Desert Eagle Tech), email interview, February 26, 2014.